BALDWIN COUNTY, Ga. — When forest fires happen, it's the job of forestry commissions and fire departments to work together. That's what the Southern Area Geographic Area Heavy Equipment Operator Academy is for, with the addition of plows, tractors, and bulldozers.

The academy covers 13 southeastern states from Texas to Virginia. Randall Fuchs is a former participant and now coach here from Texas. "A lot of the material I obtain from this academy will go back in the thought process of the redevelopment of the dozer program in Texas."

Fuchs and other coaches are teaching 32 firefighters how to operate and use the heavy machinery on different terrain from flat land to slopes.

Before students can actually get in the driver's seat, they have to spend hours learning the maintenance of the dozers and also the terrain they'll be working with. 

Clifton Willis from the U.S. Forest Service says, "Of all those 13 southeastern states, many areas have similar terrain or topography, so the lessons we learn here in Macon can be applied no matter which state you end up in."

One of the participants nominated was Antonio Hill from North Carolina.

"In North Carolina right now, it's an unusual year there this year. It's actually kinda hot and dry, but since the storms coming out from the gulf, we're gonna get some of that rain and it's gonna wet things up, so we're gonna get out of our fire season a little bit," Hill said.

Hill learned how to take a plow one and off of a bulldozer, and he says this type of training will be helpful for him to use back home.

"We have similar vegetation and the type of grasses and trees here as well as in North Carolina, so it's really important we take this training back."

For Hill and the others, the end of the eight days will get them a certificate and a new skill set.

This year's academy last until June 13, and the Georgia Forestry Commission says they'll start planning for next year the following day.

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